In this day and age, it is the responsibility of all businesses to impact the world in a positive way. Success should be measured not by profit, but by commitment to social impact. To do this, we need to completely transform the business conversation — a business’s commitment to social impact should not change based on how it is profiting. If we give out of convenience, rather than a deep commitment to service at our core, then we fail ourselves and our communities.
At Zenises, we are committed to infusing social impact within the culture of our organization. Even in periods with lower profit margins, we make social entrepreneurship a priority. An endowment we recently gave to Oxford University was so significant that it was directly affecting our bottom line. But profit was not the priority; we were more concerned with the emphasis on our social impact. We could always make more money the following year, but we had an opportunity — a commitment — to give back in the moment, and that is what we chose to do. As far as I know, we are the only company thinking this way. It might go against the grain of conventional thinking, but in my opinion conventional thinking is wrong. Our social impact shouldn’t change just because we didn’t meet a certain profit margin as a company—they are separate issues. One should not depend on the other.
Most companies don’t run this way. They see social impact as something for which they should be praised, a bonus or a positive PR move. This has gone to such extremes that even charitable organizations are adopting operating models that are closer to those of corporations rather than philanthropic foundations. Take, for example, the 200,000 registered charities in the UK that raise and spend £80 billion annually. Altogether, they employ about one million in staff. On average, those charities make 13 billion every year, but a small portion of that actually goes toward supporting their mission. In England and Wales alone there are 1,939 active children’s foundations. But after deducting the administrative fees, executive salaries, and office rent, the percentage that actually goes to any child is grossly undercut by the operating costs.
Compare this to Zenises. Though not a registered charity, we have adopted a philanthropic business model that is, quite frankly, more charitable than “official” charitable initiatives. We’ve created The Zenises Foundation, an authentic fusion of philanthropy and business, which gives an unheard of 100% of profits directly to those it aids. This occurs through several initiatives: Z Aspire cultivates creativity by working with underprivileged children, helping to ensure learning from primary through to Masters degree level education. To that end, Z Aspire currently runs an in-house programme that provides an educational adoption for disadvantaged children. OuTreach motivates local and international communities where Zenises operates to educate and mentor college students in those areas. Westlake Wishes provides nourishing four course meals to 125,000 people per day; and the Pot Drop provided porridge for underfed children at the Kiddies’ Paradise School in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, in conjunction with Please in 2015.
It’s a different way of thinking about business success. Our goal isn’t to become the biggest tyre distributor, it’s to have the greatest social impact. If by way of that effort we become the biggest tyre distributor, that’s a different story. We are so dedicated to this mentality that we hire with it in mind. Everyone, from the CEO to the most junior employee, is involved with our social impact initiatives—and they are deeply connected to these efforts in their own rights. Every year I do a Christmas weekend for my employees and this year we are all going to Oxford to follow up on the philanthropic effort I mentioned earlier. We will get to meet with the faculty, staff, and students at Oxford to witness the efforts of our social responsibility commitment first hand. Everyone at Zenises really cares about this initiative, which is what makes it work. Everybody in the business needs to get behind this philosophy.
Of course, we are just one organization. In order to create this change on a widespread basis we need to redefine what success looks like for businesses based on how they are giving and not just how they are profiting.
We also need to redefine how businesses are run. As a business owner I have been given the opportunity to find success, but beyond that I should be expected to use that success to make a difference in someone else’s life. That is the definition of social responsibility. It has to be connected to how you run your business in order to work, which why we are constantly making an effort to do good in the places we are doing business.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to fuse philanthropy and social impact efforts with business motives. When you are fighting for that extra two percent of margin, the social impact of that effort should be seen front and center, as a direct correlation. You know that that two percent is doing something bigger—not just financing your new car, but feeding those who wouldn’t be able to eat without it.
Social entrepreneurship is here for the long term, it is not a fad but an idea that should and will continue to have a profound effect on how business is done and should be done.